My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George, 1959, Dutton
Perhaps this is one of those “blemished” books because I don’t know that homeschoolers recommend it much. I wonder if that’s because it is usually described as the story of a boy who ran away from home. (Which is why it almost didn’t get published.) Well, the main character, Sam Gribley, did leave home, but it turns out his parents knew where he was and they let him do it.
My Side of the Mountain is another of my favorite books from childhood. And as I reread it recently I found it just as delightful as I did 50 years ago, and loved it as much as I did 30+ years ago when I read it to my children, who also loved it.
In my review of Swiss Family Robinson I mentioned a genre of fiction I have dubbed “scientific fiction.” Like historical fiction only based on science. This book might just go in that category.
Sam Gribley was a boy who lived with his large family in a crowded New York City apartment. He left home, with his parents’ knowledge and permission, to see if he could live off the land on his great-grandfather’s homestead in the Catskill Mountains. The difficulties he faced – finding a place to live, finding food, making clothes for himself – and his ways of overcoming them, make for a great story.
And it’s a very educational story; in it you find yourself learning about all kinds of wild foods, how to get them, and how to cook them. Freshwater mussels, cat tails, spring beauties, dandelions, crayfish, Jack in the Pulpit, puffballs, watercress…the list goes on and on. The book shows how to build traps for rabbits and deer, how to tan the deerskins, how to make salt from hickory bark… Sam’s neighbors are a duck hawk he caught and tamed, named “Frightful,” a weasel, raccoons, flying squirrels, as well as the more common birds.
And Sam succeeds in his mission – he makes it through the winter, successfully living off the land. But in the end he lets himself be found, realizing that he misses the company of human beings.
But, some gentle readers will ask, is it a Christian book? Well, that depends on how you figure it. I came across a biography once called Mary Todd Lincoln – the Christian. Turns out the author categorized her as a Christian because of the frequent use of God’s name in Mrs. Lincoln’s letters. Hmmm…if that makes someone a Christian there are a lot of them on the internet.
Well, the Bible says we judge a person by his fruit. So for Sam Gribley what do we get? There’s no profession of faith, no mention of praying. However, like the majority of people a couple generations ago, Sam does appear to have a Christian Worldview: he appears to love and honor his parents, has a high regard for the truth, doesn’t steal, and is hospitable.
My Side of the Mountain is a book I think anyone would enjoy and learn from, and it’s a book that doesn’t require any editing of language or bad attitudes. It’s one of the few works of fiction I’d pass as entirely safe to hand to a child to read to himself. But it’s a lot more fun to read it aloud and enjoy it together!
There are two sequels, written much later, which to me, lack the charm of this first book. I’m not going to review them; I don’t want to reread them.
Do you throw away an apple because it has a bruise? Most likely not, if you’re a homeschool mom. You cut off the bruise and eat the good part. That’s how it should be with books: you eliminate the problematic parts and consume it anyway. But I knew one HS mom who thought if you encountered anything unacceptable, however small, you should get rid of that book. Just toss it.
A different friend of mine, but one with the same mindset, changed her mind about reading The Wind in the Willows to her children when Mole threw down his paintbrush and said, “Bother! O blow!” Hang spring-cleaning!” She considered that cursing. Others won’t read a book unless it was written by a Christian. Some reject fiction altogether, or picture books in which the animals wear clothes.
That leaves precious little fiction to read which is worth reading. (And yes, I think some fiction is worth reading.) There are few flawless books (really only one) and the recent children’s books which have been written scrupulously avoiding anything slightly objectionable and chock-full of multi-culturalism and every kind of political correctness make dismal reading.
Do we have to be so thin-skinned? Can we learn to extract the precious from the worthless? It’s easy when you read a book aloud – just omit the parts you don’t want your children to hear. Better yet, read it as it stands and explain what’s wrong with it. This is a perfect opportunity to discuss with your children ideas that differ from scripture. Your children will encounter these ideas someday; discussing these kinds of things while on your own turf and when you’re there to interpret is an opportunity you should not avoid.
This fall, I’m honored to be a featured speaker with Homeschool Summits for the Homeschool Parenting Summit, a free event hosted online this October 22-27. You can watch my interview on Saturday, October 27th at 9 AM CST. I hope you’ll join us! You can register now at https://bit.ly/2RBGSIM.
Raising children well is one of the most important things you will do with your life -it’s not an easy job- when you add the demands of home education it can quickly become overwhelming.
There is good news, though! There are plenty of principles in the Bible on how to successfully raise children, and that’s what the Homeschool Parenting Summit is all about. It’s a free week-long event coming October 22-27, 2018 designed to help you focus on God’s simple plan for family discipleship and inspire you in your faith and give you valuable insights on raising children who love God and others.
Join me and over twenty other speakers, and our hosts, Daniel & Megan, in video sessions focused on five key topics:
Foundations: Start things off right, from your own self-discipline to unity with your spouse on your family’s mission.
Child Training: Reach the heart of your children with Gospel-motivated love, truth, and consistency.
Relationships: Pursue healthy conflict resolution and friendships between parents and siblings.
Challenges:Overcome rebellion, media, and technology with a biblical perspective.
Launch: Leverage the power of discipleship to propel young adults for marriage, work, and a life of service to Christ.
The entire event is free if you sign up by October 22nd, and in addition to the video sessions, you’ll also get access to an online vendor hall (with exclusive discounts and freebies), live daily devotions to help you set your heart on God’s plan for parenting, and a private Facebook group to connect with speakers and other attendees.
You’ll walk away from the Homeschool Parenting Summit with renewed hope and faith, and an arsenal of strategies for building a joyful family that loves God wholeheartedly.
I encourage you to sign up and join us! You can register for free (for a limited time only!) at https://bit.ly/2RBGSIM
It’s often hard to get kids interested in history; they just can’t see any connection between people who lived long ago and themselves. This book is a good one for helping young people see that connection.
Diary of an Early American Boy is based on an actual boy’s diary from 1805 which Eric Sloane, the author and illustrator, found in an old house. The diary is the record of the sixteenth year of Noah Blake who lived with his parents on a farm in Connecticut.
This book is based on an actual historic diary, it’s not one of those fictional “diaries” that have flooded the teen fiction market whose main characters strikingly resemble today’s teens in their self-absorption. Sloane did take some liberties in padding out the journal entries, but it’s his explanations, and most of all his wonderful illustrations – based on actual facts about how people lived and thought in 1805 – that make the diary come alive. Because Sloane is that wonderful combination of historian and artist who doesn’t just tell you how things were in long-ago times, he shows you.
A few of the things Sloane shows the reader in this book are: how maple trees are tapped and the sap boiled down to syrup, how bridges were built, how people kept warm in unheated church meeting houses in the winter, how grain was ground, how mill-wheels worked, how food was stored, how cider was made. There are too many to list.
Some will want to know if this is a “Christian book.” Well, that depends on what you mean by that. Noah Blake never refers to God or prays and there’s no expression of his faith. His family’s way of life certainly reflects Christian values but that was usual at that time. He obviously honors his parents. The family goes to Sunday meeting and reads the Bible. In summary, there is no disrespect of God, Christians, or the Bible in this book, so I thinkit’s safe to say the Blake family had a Christian worldview, at least.
I love this book. In fact, I love all Sloane’s books, but the three I like best are this one – Diary of an Early American Boy , A Reverence for Wood, and A Museum of Early American Tools. My boys loved these three books so much that they read them to pieces and I had to keep buying new copies.
After several years of this (and after used books became available on the internet) I learned that you can get our three favorite Sloane books bound together in one hardback volume that won’t fall apart called Sketches of America Past. Used, of course, because it’s out of print. This was a popular gift book about 30 years ago and there are scads of them on the market, cheap.
There are two different publishers: Amaranth Press gives you a fancy imitation-leather binding with gold stamping and a pretty picture on the cover. Right now, that one ranges from $5 to $10, including shipping. The other publisher, Promontory Press, gives you the book with a tasteful scholarly cloth binding and paper dust jacket at about the same price. Either way you get all three, hardbound, for about half what it would cost to get one of these titles new in paperback.
This is a great time to buy books! Never before in the history of mankind have so many books been available, and thanks to the online used book market, never have they been available so cheaply. Take advantage of this to invest in your children’s minds! Invest in your grandchildren’s! Bibliophiles of the past like Thomas Jefferson, who bankrupted himself by buying books, (they were costly then) would never be able to believe what we have available today.
So buy books! Buy them used, buy them hardbound. Build a library for future generations!
“One of the most engaging works of American historical scholarship…”
“An unputdownable narrative…”
“A tale of adventure and intrigue so vivid and so colorful that it sometimes reads like a thriller rather than a historical monograph…”
I found Paul Revere’s Ride to be all these things and more. For me, it ignited a love of American History which has never gone out since I first read it 12 years ago.
As a product of the government schools I actually graduated fromcollege knowing almost nothing about the history of my country. This is the book that helped me see history as a fascinating, richly intermingled tapestry of peoples’ life stories and experiences stretching back as far as the written word, and further.
I love this book. My first time reading it when I came to the end, I didn’t want it to be over! So I started reading it to my youngest sons aged 10 and 12. They loved it. They would beg me not to stop reading, “No, Mom, you can’t stop there, you have to read just a little more!” They were so eager to know what would happen next that I had to hide it from them. It was great.
I’ve never found a book better at infecting the reader (or listener) with an interest in learning about the past. And since as a homeschool mother, this is exactly what you are trying to do, this is a book you must know about! It’s a perfect springboard into study of the War for American Independence and the Colonial Period. It introduces many of the cast of characters: Sam and John Adams, James Otis, Joseph Warren, John Hancock, Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty. More importantly, it introduces the events that sparked the conflict: the Stamp Act, the Townsend Act, the “Intolerable Acts,” the taxation without representation which so frustrated the colonists, and finally, the seizure of their arms. And explains these events in a way that helps the reader understand why the colonists were upset enough about the situation to go to war over it.
I love the way Paul Revere’s Ride paints a picture of Colonial life: the attitude the colonists had toward their work, (something shameful to the British) the interest they took in the way they were governed, the interest they took in their laws… The interest they took in everything, really! They were alive to what was going on in their world in a way we would do well to notice and emulate.
Most of all I love the way this book teaches the reader what it really meant to be an American, and the more Biblical worldview and attitude toward work, equality and freedom that went with being an American back then.
Paul Revere’s Ride is one of my most highly recommended books; perfect for high-school-age readers. For a younger audience I’d start by reading it aloud, then leave it lying around and see what happens. If it disappears you know you hooked someone! (If it doesn’t, keep read it aloud to them.) And when they come asking for more books like this, try Fischer’s sequel, Washington’s Crossing.
This spring I’m honored to be a featured speaker with Homeschool Summits for the Homeschool Fitting-It-All-In Summit, a free event hosted online this April 30-May 5. You can watch my interview on May 2nd at 9 AM. I hope you’ll join us! You can register now here.
If you ever feel like you’re overwhelmed by all the choices and activities that come your way as a homeschool parent, then this is for you. It’s a week dedicated to helping you decide what matters to your family, create a workable homeschool plan, and keep your path centered on the eternal – even in the midst of a bustling family life.
Most importantly, each video from this event will focus on the truth found in God’s Word and the hope that lies in trusting in Jesus Christ for today and for the future.
All of the video interviews with speakers (like myself) bring a Christ-centered focus to these important steps on your way to learning how to fit it all in:
Charting Your Course: Learn how to change your perspective to match God’s view as revealed in His Word.
The Homeschool Gameplan: Get insight into academic necessities and how to make sure they can realistically work out in your homeschool.
Home Management Strategies: Find out how to keep household duties running smoothly in the midst of schooling, and come away with specific action items to make changes beginning tomorrow.
Building Your Team: Discover the beauty of a family working together to build God’s kingdom and how to keep relationships healthy for maximum joy from parents down to little ones.
Eternal Priorities: Reorient yourself to stick to the mission of following Christ, leading your children to Him, and influencing others for the Gospel
The entire event is free if you sign up by April 30th, and in addition to the video content, you’ll also get access to an easy-to-search online vendor hall (with exclusive discounts and freebies) and a private Facebook group to connect with speakers and other attendees.
I encourage you to sign up today for the Homeschool Fitting-It-All Summit for a week of valuable wisdom and Christ-centered hope so you can conquer your homeschool overwhelm.
Learn more and register for free (for a limited time only!) here.
Okay, I haven’t posted in almost two months. So much for New Year’s resolutions. But to make up for it I am going to answer (finally) the question I have been asked most over my many years of homeschool-mothering, a question which I used to ask myself, and it is this: My daughter/son is a bookworm and reads voraciously and I don’t have time to read everything before I hand it to her/him so what do I do?
The best answer I have so far is to hand that child a stack of Landmark books and start shopping for more. Or check your library and inter-library loan program to see if you can get them there.
So what’s so great about Landmark Books? It’s a series of non-fiction books published by Random House in the 1950’s and 60’s. Sure, there are other book sets published around then for the same audience, (older elementary through middle-school ages) but the thing that makes Landmark Books unique it that Random House hired “skilled wordsmiths, who could engage a general audience” to write theirs, many of whom were experts in their field, not just staff writers.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of authors Random House chose:
The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler was written by William L. Shirer, the author of best-seller, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, considered the quintessential book on the subject and the recipient of the National Book Award for non-fiction.
The Story of Atomic Energy was written by Laura Fermi. Name “Fermi” sound familiar? She was the wife of Enrico Fermi, known as the “architect of the nuclear age” and the “architect of the atomic bomb”.
The Wright Brothers (which I reviewed earlier) waswritten by Quentin Reynolds, an associated editor for Collier’s Weekly, and then a WWII correspondent who wrote numerous books about war-related themes. (He wrote several of my favorite Landmark Books, including The Battle of Britain –perhaps my favorite Landmark Book of all, Custer’s Last Stand, The Life of St. Patrick, The FBI, andWinston Churchill (I’ve never seen this one; it’s rare and copies start at $50.)
The American Historical Association has an article on the Landmark Series that explains the history of Landmark Books; check it out here: https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/october-2016/generation-past-the-story-of-the-landmark-books
I started collecting Landmark Books when I found out that our friends, Bill Potter and Wesley Strackbein, both noted historians, were avid collectors. I knew if they collected them they had to be good. So I got a few Landmarks off Ebay and read them. Then a few more. And then I took the plunge and won the bid on a lot of 60 from Ebay…
I think I have about 90 titles now and have read about half of them. By the time I’ve read them all I’ll be a lot smarter. In fact, I’m a lot smarter already. A kid who had read all 185 of them (even if he only remembered half of it) would be pretty well-educated.
So if, like me, you want to invest in the education of children – whether you own or other peoples’ – you should collect Landmark Books too. Much more sensible than collecting china teacups or owl figurines.
I hope, in time, to write reviews of all that I’ve read, but listing the titles I haven’t liked takes a lot less time than writing about all the ones I love so I’ll start with that. So far, out of the 40+ Landmark books I’ve read there are only four that I wouldn’t recommend:
The First Men in the World, by Anne Terry White – I haven’t actually read all of this one, but I didn’t have to read much to see that it’s not about Adam and his sons. The author has a totally Darwinian, old-earth viewpoint. Another title I’d steer clear of is her Prehistoric America. In fact, you might want to steer clear of Anne Terry White’s work altogether. She is definitely not writing from a Christian perspective and is a strong evolutionist, and very probably a Marxist. One intriguing fact about her is that FBI documents confirm that her husband was a spy for the USSR, which was where she was born. Her books are the only ones in this series I’ve encountered so far with a definite anti-Christian slant.
Joan of Arc, by Nancy Wilson Ross – There’s really nothing wrong with how this book is written, the problem is that because there isn’t much factual information about Joan of Arc, the book is largely based on the myths and legends which have arisen about her in the five centuries since her lifetime. And most of these fly in the face of what we know from scripture about how things work.
Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, by Slater Brown – Again, the problem isn’t with the scholarship or the writing. Ethan Allen, though a patriot, was a deist and his work, published in 1785 as Reason: the Only Oracle of Man, was an unbridled attack against the Bible and Christianity.
So where do you buy Landmark Books? Well, keep your eyes open for them at garage sales and thrift stores, where you’ll find your best bargains. The vast majority are out of print, but you can buy a few of them new from Amazon, in paperback, for $4-6 dollars.
Random House still prints seven of the original Landmarks books, published in the 1950’s and 1960’s:
The Wright Brothers, by Quentin Reynolds
The Landing of the Pilgrims, by James Daugherty
The American Revolution by Bruce Bliven, Jr.
Ben Franklin of Old Philadelphia, by Margaret Cousins
The Story of Thomas Alva Edison
Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, by Elizabeth Payne
Gettysburg, by MacKinlay Kantor
(There are some recently-written ones that I haven’t checked into yet, and until I do, I can’t recommend them.)
Sterling Point has reprinted these:
The Barbary Pirates, by C. S. Forester(Creator of the award-winning Horatio Hornblower fiction series)
Alexander the Great, by John Gunther
Daniel Boone – The Opening of the Wilderness, by John Mason Brown
George Washington, Frontier Colonel, by Sterling North (the author of Rascal, another long-time favorite of mine)
Geronimo, by Ralph Moody (Creator of the Little Britches series)
Invasion – The story of D Day, by Bruce Bliven
John Paul Jones – Patriot Pirate, by Armstrong Sperry
The Swamp Fox of the Revolution, by Stewart H. Holbrook
Pearl Harbor Attack, by Edwin P. Hoyt
The Deadly Hunt- the Sinking of the Bismark, by William Shirer
(Sterling Point is also publishing some non-Landmark titles, mostly written in the 1950’s, which look good. I’ve bought a couple but I haven’t read them yet.)
Beautiful Feet Books publishes:
The Magna Charta, by James Doughtery
The Vikings, by Elizabeth Janeway
Sonlight Curriculum publishes:
Leonardo da Vinci, by Emily Hahn
The Lewis and Clark Expedition, by Richard L. Neuberge
That makes 21 of the original 185 still in print. Sad. But the good news is that because of the series’ popularity and the vast numbers which were printed, they are still easily available online and most are not expensive. The Rise and Fall of Adolph Hitler, in hardback, for example, starts at about $12 – close to my spending limit – but Thomas Jefferson, Father of Democracy, also hardback, starts at under $3.
You can find them, used, on Amazon or from Advanced Book Exchange, (https://www.abebooks.com/) Check both sellers for the best price before you buy. And I wouldn’t buy anything in “fair” or “acceptable” condition unless you want that title desperately.
I like the original paper-dust-jacketed hardbacks best, but since it’s really the content I value, I’m happy to get the later reprints with the image printed on the hard cover as well. (It’s called the “pictorial board format.” ) Whatever format you get, they will be a good investment in the education of children you love.
So we’re counting down the days to Christmas and all over the country parents are poised to bestow upon their young female offspring (and, horror of horrors, some, on their young male offspring) princess dresses, princess tiaras, princess-themed toys, dolls, sheets, books, movies, and anything else opportunistic retailers can stick a princess motif on.
But sadly, modern culture, mainly through the Disney princess movies, has completely lost sight of what it means to be a princess. A real princess.
It was not as great as it sounds. It’s true that if you were a daughter of one of the kings of days of yore you probably lived a life of relative luxury, had more to eat than others, and got to hob-nob with royalty. But not always; for the four Romanov princesses being a princess meant getting executed along with their parents, but that was an extreme circumstance.
Throughout history, kings and queens lived out their reigns in varying circumstances of peace or upheaval, but royal princesses were far too valuable a bargaining commodity to waste. Being murdered was much more likely to happen to young princes in line for the throne than to their sisters.
Mainly being a princess meant having to marry someone you didn’t know, someone you didn’t want to marry, as it did for Henry VIII’s younger sister, Mary, (the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey) who was forced to marry the king of France, more than 30 years her senior. Even in recent times it has meant not being allowed to marry the man you loved, as was the case with the current Queen of England’s own late sister, Margaret.
Because if you were a princess you did not get to decide what you would do or not do. You did not belong to yourself, you belonged to your country. To the people who held the reins, anyway. You were merely a bargaining chip to be played however and whenever and wherever it suited those in power to use you.
Right now I’m reading a book to my grand-daughter Katharine which explains pretty well what it means to be, maybe not a historically-accurate princess, but a real princess. A person who displays the character of a true princess.
It’s called The Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and you’re probably familiar with the Shirley Temple movie version or another movie version. Admittedly, Shirley Temple is adorable, but she’s not an accurate depiction of the Sara Crewe of the book, nor is the movie script faithful to the book. The book, as is almost always the case, is much better than the movie.
It’s a valuable book to read to the right child at the right time, as there are many moral tests and lessons in it. And somehow without the preachy Sunday-school quality of some of the Victorian children’s fiction, The Little Princess quite clearly contrasts right conduct with wrong conduct.
The main character is Sara, who pretends she is a princess. And unlike most little girls today who pretend to be princesses, she knows what that means. It means it’s her duty to consistently think of others before herself, and to do what is right and good, even when that’s hard to do.
Through the course of the story Sara endures flattery without becoming proud, and later, endures ill-treatment patiently and without returning evil for evil or insult for insult.
The villain of the story, Miss Minchin, who is the proprietress of the boarding school Sara attends, is selfish, petty, hateful and bad.
There is no moral confusion here. Neither the heroine nor the villain is struggling to find herself, or lying awake nights to figure out what’s right for her, or deciding what is right according to how she feels. What’s good is good and what’s bad is bad. Just like that.
It’s not a perfect book; it has its flaws. First, the author was not a Christian, and there is no Christian language in the book. But the world Burnett grew up in over a hundred years ago was a world still influenced by Christian morality and worldview. Telling the truth was important, as was being kind to those around you, and suffering bravely. Back then one always knew what was the right thing to do, and the protagonist, Sara, tried consistently to do it.
The book mentions magic several times, sometimes when she really means “make believe” but especially near the end when several unexplained wonderful things start happening to Sara. But in this so-called magic, there’s no behavior that the Bible forbids like trying to contact departed souls, or foretelling of the future or anything like that. In one place Sara pretends something might have done by a “good witch”. (I changed that to “angel” when I read that part.) And there’s mention of fairies. Sara also makes wishes a lot. I change Sara’s wish-making into praying just as I change her talk of “magic” into “pretending”. That’s the great thing about reading aloud- you can adapt the text however you want.
In addition to the other ways I tweaked it, I substituted words Katharine would understand for those she wouldn’t. The book was written for children older than five, really.
So all that said, with all these flaws, is The Little Princess really worth reading?
Yes, I think so. And I know Katharine, who loved every minute of it, would say so. It’s a good story, well-told, with an thoroughly admirable protagonist, and a wonderfully evil villain who gets what’s coming to her in the very satisfying ending. More importantly, it’s a story which teaches many lessons on self-restraint and conduct important for little girls. From our reading of it together, I think Katharine, who likes to play princess as much as any five-year-old girl, is beginning to get a vision for the kind of selfless and noble conduct that befits a true princess.
Just as the passing of Reformation Day doesn’t signal the end of our need to study the Reformation, we shouldn’t think that since Thanksgiving is past we don’t need to study the Puritans any more for the next 11 months. The way they read and applied scripture, and their belief in God‘s intimate involvement in their everyday lives, are things we’d do well to study.
They are truly a people for all seasons.
(Okay, you’re probably realizing that I have a thing for the Pilgrims. I do. I love their courage, their resolve, their reverence for God… I love to read their writings. As the spiritual ancestors of all of us who are Americans, they are an important part of our history, and it’s amazing to think that they are in the great cloud of witnesses watching what has become of this country they invested in at so great a price. What must they be thinking?)
If you want to read more about the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Pilgrims here are a few more books for young readers that I recommend:
Squanto – Friend of the Pilgrims, Clyde Robert Bulla, 1954
If You Were at the First Thanksgiving, Anne Kamma, 2001 (Out of print and expensive for a Scholastic paperback! The price used copies are selling for makes me wonder if they’ll reprint it some day. Maybe your public library has it.)
N. C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims, Robert D. Sans Souci, The illustrations are beautiful even if they are not absolutely authentic. You can see many of them online.